The fitness community is made up of countless sub-categories based on both the ends you’re pursuing and the means you’re willing to use to get there. Crossfit guys gather around their water coolers and make fun of bodybuilders, bodybuilders watch distance runners waste away on their treadmills and chuckle, and people who see working out as nothing but a means to improve at their sport of preference scoff at folks that exercise just for the sake of exercise.
This kind of rivalry is natural, and if you don’t take yourself too seriously, it can be a great way to lighten the mood in the gym while the lettuce eating fat burners shuffle around the protein pounding muscle builders that are hogging the bench even though they’ve probably only touched the bar twice in the last twenty minutes. On a long enough timeline, everybody’s an asshole, and part of the fun in working out with a group of people you get along with is getting to call one another out on it, but there’s one sect of the fitness community that just irks me. Their jokes are mean-spirited. Their delivery wreaks of false superiority. Their “empowered” hypocrisy boils my blood.
I’m talking, of course, about women who tell other women that lifting weights will make them “manly.”
Before I go on, let’s get the Twitter outrage talking points out of the way: I’m a man, and as such, I understand that I don’t have the perspective a woman gains through a lifetime spent in the gender. As far as some women are concerned, my gender alone makes me ill-equipped to discuss the social interactions I’ve observed between women — and before those messages come rolling into my inbox, allow me to address them up front. While I’m critical of women who choose to demean others for choosing to lift weights, I’m not doing so out of some sense of social superiority — hell, I’m not even pulling from the breadth of experience I have training female athletes or working out alongside female competitors.
In fact, nothing about my own gender identity is informing my utter distaste for these naysayers — it’s science that says that you’re wrong. All I’m saying is that you’re a jerk.
Now, I know there are plenty of old-school men out there that also believe weight training will make women into big, bulky dudes — but we can all agree that the 65-year-old man angrily mashing keys with caps lock on under videos of female Crossfit competitors, while a poisonous human being, isn’t worth our time or consideration. No, it’s not the nameless internet tough guys that really get under my skin, it’s the way I’ve seen so many women look their friends right in the face and tell them, “lifting those weights is going to make you look like a man!”
And the countless more I’ve overheard from the treadmill criticizing the women they see over by the weights for “trying to get bulky” or, worse, for “just trying to get attention” where all the men are lifting.
So, misinformed and rude women of all ages that feel the need to pass judgement on your peers who aren’t afraid to hit the iron, allow me to educate you: weight training is not only good for women in a general sense, it’s also an important part of any highly effective fat burning regimen.
Lifting weights can help women burn more fat.
A study conducted by Tufts University demonstrated unequivocally that older women that incorporated heavy weight training into their schedule twice a week while dieting lost a great deal more fat than those who were dieting alone. How notable were the differences? At the study’s conclusion, the weight training group, on average, had lost 14.6 pounds each while gaining a little less than a pound and a half of muscle. Those who skipped the weights and stuck with their diets, on the other hand, lost only about 9 pounds each.
Intense weight training programs often lead to elevating your metabolism throughout the day, and as you develop more muscle mass, your metabolism will adjust to help sustain it. That means weight training doesn’t only burn calories while you’re in the act, it helps to increase the amount of calories you’re burning as you go about your other business. That’s not to say that you should omit cardio from your fat burning regimen, but rather that incorporating weight lifting into your fat burning strategy will help you achieve your goals more quickly.
Lifting weights will not make you bulky or manly.
So if we’re clear that the data supports weight training as an effective means of burning fat for women, what about the concerns about getting “bulky” or “manly” looking as a result of the added muscle mass? I’ll be upfront about this one: it takes years and a whole lot of effort for men to get that “bulky” aesthetic, and they come equipped with more testosterone than female lifters do. That testosterone helps men to develop muscle mass more quickly, and yet so many of the men I know still fight tooth and nail to pack some mass onto their frames. This begs the question; if men with a natural advantage in the realm of mass building struggle to do it, what makes you think a few sets of curls are going to turn you into Lady Rambo?
Women are absolutely capable of building a lot of muscle mass but don’t fool yourself into thinking that it happens by accident. When you see a female powerlifter with a 230 pound frame, she worked her ass off to get there — probably even harder than many of her male counterparts — and if I’m honest, I hope she doesn’t give a shit about what the whispering members of the spin class down the hall think of her.
Most women who lift don’t look masculine at all — in fact, most of the extremely feminine models and actresses we see in the media attain their figures not through starvation and slow paced cardio, but through a healthy diet and a thorough fitness regimen that includes, you guessed it, weight training.
Weight lifting can help maintain bone density in older women.
A significant concern for aging female athletes is the loss of bone mass density that coincides with menopause. The acceleration of bone loss that sets in late in the perimenopause stage and continues throughout the first few postmenopausal years can lead to osteoporosis and eventually, to injuries like bone fractures. However, studies have repeatedly shown that weight training can have a beneficial effect on bone density in menopausal and postmenopausal women, and as such, it can help to prevent those injuries from occurring.
If you don’t believe me, however, I’ll let a report from the Office of the Surgeon General do the heavy lifting for me:
For bone gain to occur, the stimulus must be greater than that which the bone usually experiences. Static loads applied continuously (such as standing) do not promote increased bone mass. General physical activity every day and some weight-bearing, strength-building, and balance-enhancing activities 2 or more times a week are generally effective for promoting bone health for most persons.”
Or this one that determined weight training to be an effective method of maintaining bone density in the spine for postmenopausal women:
We conclude that weight training may be a useful exercise modality for maintaining lumbar BMD in early postmenopausal women.
Or this study that confirmed that adding weight training to an aerobic workout regimen improved bone mass density and overall fitness in young women as well.
This study indicates that over a 2‐year period, a combined regimen of aerobics and weight training has beneficial effects on BMD and fitness parameters in young women.”
I suppose you get the point.
Let me be clear — although I would highly encourage most women to consider incorporating some weight-work into their regimens, fitness remains a very personal endeavor. Your goals are your own, and the means by which you choose to pursue them are equally so. However, despite a growing upswell of female empowerment and mutual support in our country, it seems our culture remains steadfast in its unwillingness to accept the idea that the weight room isn’t just for the boys.
If you’re a woman that just isn’t into weightlifting, that’s cool, just stop holding it against the others that are.
If you’re a man that thinks lifting weights will make the cute girl on the bench “too bulky,” I might suggest keeping that shit to yourself and working on your own bulk. If she’s worried about how her workout is going to affect your feelings, she’ll probably ask.
And if you’re a female that wants to get into lifting but fears the social stigma of being one of those girls, get after those weights and show the world why that social stigma is wrong. Because I don’t care if you’re a man or woman — if you’re looking to improve, you’re always welcome in my gym.
Just don’t talk to me when my headphones are on.
Feature image courtesy of Marine veteran and trainer, Selena Mrkonja. You can find her on Instagram here.